Florida's credit unions are healthier than the U.S. average and growing steadily, two new reports show.
Credit rating agency BauerFinancial of Coral Gables rated credit unions in Florida as 82 percent "recommended" and just 2.5 percent "troubled and problematic" as of Sept. 30. That's an improvement from 75 percent "recommended" and 4 percent "troubled and problematic" a year earlier.
It is also a better rating than the U.S. average for credit unions: 76 percent "recommended" and 3 percent "troubled and problematic," according to BauerFinancial.
In the third quarter, Florida credit unions added 35,000 new members to reach 4.7 million members for the first time. That marked five straight quarters of record growth in membership, according to the League of Southeastern Credit Unions.
Florida's credit unions are faring well for several reasons.
For starters, the member-owned, nonprofit cooperatives tend to charge lower fees than commercial banks. They are capitalizing on consumer frustration with rising fees at for-profit banks and benefiting from growing public awareness about credit unions as a financial option.
Credit unions also are gaining from increased loan activity as the U.S. economy improves.
Florida's credit unions boosted business loans to members by 7.9 percent through the first three quarters this year. Plus, they are increasing loans for homes and autos, as consumer confidence rises, the league said in a statement.
Tropical Financial Credit Union, based in Miramar, shows the lending trend.
"We're seeing a pickup on the mortgage loan and business loan side of things," said Richard Helber, who leads the credit union of roughly 54,000 members and $482 million in assets. He estimates Tropical Financial's mortgage production rose 40 percent this year, although the credit union has been selling off those mortgages.
For 2013, Tropical Financial sees growth, too. Helber forecasts a 2.5 percent gain in members, 4 percent bump in deposits and 15 percent increase in loans next year.
Sun Credit Union, based in Hollywood, also sees gains next year. It expects loans to rise 3 percent to 4 percent, as the recent wave of mortgage refinancing ebbs, said Patrick Mason, who leads the credit union of roughly 6,000 members and $60 million in assets. Business should be helped by the introduction of mobile banking, Mason said.
Mostly small and not much involved in commercial real-estate loans, credit unions were less exposed and less affected than banks by Florida's real-estate crunch. Florida banks are less healthy than the U.S. average, according to BauerFinancial.
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